With the space shuttle fleet currently scheduled for retirement at the end of the year, Endeavour begins the farewell tour with a Feb. 7 launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, headed to the International Space Shuttle. Five shuttle missions are planned in 2010; the last flight is currently targeted for launch in September.
The flight will be Endeavour's 24th mission and the 33rd shuttle flight dedicated to station assembly and maintenance. Liftoff is planned for 4:39 a.m. EST, making it the final scheduled space shuttle night launch.
Endeavour's primary mission will be the delivery of the Tranquility node, the final module of the U.S. portion of the space station. Tranquility will provide additional room for crew members and many of the space station's life support and environmental control systems. Attached to the node is a cupola that houses a robotic control station and has seven windows to provide a panoramic view of Earth, celestial objects and visiting spacecraft.
After the node and cupola are added, the orbiting laboratory will be about 90 percent complete.
Tranquility was built for NASA by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy, under contract to the ESA (European Space Agency). Although Tranquility was actually delivered in May, NASA did not officially take possession until Nov. 30.
Spanning about 22 feet in length and 14 feet in diameter, Tranquility's connection point on the station will be on the Earth-facing side of the Unity node. The new component will provide an additional docking point for space shuttles and other crew vehicles visiting the station.
According to NASA, the cupola's windows will be more than decoration. "As more cargo vehicles begin frequenting the space station, the station's robotic arm is going to be called into action to capture some of them as they approach and guide them into their docking port," NASA said in a news release June 19, 2009. The cupola will provide additional views for those operations.
NASA has been touting the delivery of the Tranquility mode and its attached cupola for several months.
"This flight will, I think, grab the public's attention," Kirk Shireman, ISS program deputy manager, said in June 2009. "It's just going to be a really, really neat module for those on board. The dream of being able to go out and just have an unencumbered view of space-we'll have it. You can open up all the windows and look around and really feel like you're out there."